Climate change could bring China more frequent disasters and add a month to Beijing summer: report

Extreme weather events have been a dominant theme across the Pacific this summer, prompting Greenpeace experts in China to appeal for greater awareness of climate risk and response.

In cities in America’s Pacific northwest, including Portland and Seattle, the US National Weather Service saw record high temperatures in late June. The heatwave has killed about 200 people in the United States and about 500 people in British Columbia, Canada.

In China, hundreds of thousands of people had to be relocated in the northwestern province of Sichuan by Monday because of floods and landslides.

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Hotan, a city in the south of China’s largest desert, the Taklamakan Desert, in the far west region of Xinjiang, broke a rainfall record in June.

Some 50 millimetres (1.9 inches) of rain hit the city on June 15, making it the highest rainfall recorded by the local weather bureau. That compares with the city’s average annual precipitation of 36.4 millimetres, according to official data.

“The rainfall has increased in recent years. In Hotan, the rainfall in June is equivalent to the combined rainfall of the past two years,” a Xinjiang resident reported on Weibo, China’s Twitter-like platform.

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Experts say climate change is expected to increase the frequency and intensity of extreme weather events, posing imminent and long-term threats to people’s health and sustainable development in society.

A new report released by Greenpeace East Asia on Wednesday found that climate risk was now highest in dense city centres but was growing faster for urbanising communities on city outskirts.

The report analysed three major metropolitan regions in China: Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei in the north, the Shanghai-Yangtze Delta in the east, and the Guangzhou-Shenzhen Pearl River Delta in the south.

It found that extreme heat and extreme rainfall had increased in frequency and intensity over the past 60 years in all three regions.

Beijing had the fastest rise in average temperature, at a rate of +0.32 degrees Celsius every decade, while Shanghai had “the fastest rise in heatwaves”.

Studies show the frequency of heatwaves has increased significantly since 2000 in three cities in these regions – Beijing, Hangzhou and Guangzhou. Of heatwaves in Hangzhou over the past six decades, 41 per cent had occurred since 2001, while in Guangzhou, 74 per cent of heatwaves occurred after 1998.

“Cities are an important sector of global greenhouse gas emissions, which account for about 70 per cent of the total emissions. But on the other hand, climate risks are increasing in cities and urbanisation is a key factor,” said Liu Junyan, the climate and energy project leader for Greenpeace East Asia’s Beijing office.

“Because of the highly concentrated population, infrastructure and economic activity, the exposure and vulnerability of climate hazards are higher in urban areas,” she said.

Factoring in a greenhouse gas emissions pathway adopted by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the report shows the temperature in some parts of Beijing could rise by up to 2.6 degrees Celsius by 2100.

Summers could become longer by as many as 28 days in Beijing, 24-28 days in Shanghai and more than 40 days in the Pearl River Delta.

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Meanwhile, the report also revealed increasing climate risks in medium and small cities.

“For the third, fourth or fifth-tier cities and neighbouring towns, their vulnerability would increase due to lack of financial resources, relatively backward infrastructure and the increase of the proportion of vulnerable groups,” Liu said.

“The first thing we need to do is to identify climate risks in different regions,” she said. “Coordination among different departments is essential in order to formulate a systemic climate response plan.”

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